That time Jackson got a high five from Peyton Manning

It was a beautiful day for college football. Jackson and I were on campus to volunteer at the UKirk house (the Presbyterian Campus Ministry where I serve on the board of directors). We intended to skip over to Peyton Manning Pass, the road that leads directly to Neyland Stadium, to participate in the Vol Walk. We’ve done this several times before. Jackson loves to see the football players, and I love the Pride of the Southland Band. It’s win-win.

However, on Saturday, the Vol Walk seemed extra packed. Sure, it was the Tennessee-Georgia game day, and that’s a big rivalry. But, wow. It was crowded.

The crowd is hard to manage as a tall person, but it is painfully challenging for an 11-year-old. Fortunately, after locating an older woman who I hoped was a grandmother, and therefore understanding, I tapped her on the shoulder and asked if Jackson could stand next to her as the football team walked by. She smiled and said yes and took Jackson into her care. I stood several rows of people behind them. I didn’t need the front row experience, but I wanted it for my son.

Soon the band was playing Rocky Top, and we all looked up the street awaiting the team’s walk towards Neyland. There was yelling and whistling, and the crowd grew with excitement. The Volunteer mascot whooshed by, which meant the team was next.

But the team wasn’t next, at least not yet.

I saw Phillip Fulmer first and Peyton Manning second, and then my heart jumped into my throat because Jackson was about to get a high-five from the Greatest Of All Time.

I wish I could post a photo of the moment when the high-five occurred, but I was wedged behind a tall man who was working on getting his own high-five, so I only caught the second before and the moment after.

If you look directly above the iPhone, you’ll see Jackson’s little hand. Right above him is Peyton Manning. Jackson was next in line.

In a split second, it was over.

The football team was right behind him, so Jackson went on to high-five every player he could.

When the Vol Walk was over, Jackson and I scurried out of the crowd to fully assess WHAT JUST HAPPENED.

“Did Peyton Manning give you a high-five?”


“I can’t believe it!”


This went on several more times because we had no idea Peyton Manning was going to be there. Jackson had already met Phillip Fulmer, and he had a wonderful random run-in with Josh Dobbs (where hugs were exchanged), but a high-five from Peyton Manning was never on the radar. I quickly set him down on a stone wall and said, “We have to capture this moment.”

On the way back to the UKirk house I received a text from a friend saying Brett Favre was also on campus that day. Since I didn’t know about it beforehand, we missed an opportunity to meet him and get an autograph. I can’t even tell you how bummed I was about that.

And yet, the feeling of disappointment didn’t linger because Jackson was flying high and the smile on his face was quite enough.

Blog Challenge Day 11: Most proud moment

First of all, HOW BOUT THEM VOLS!

So, what’s my most proud moment? 

Let’s go with my most recent, and it happens to be connected to Tennessee Football.

If you know Jackson in real life, then you know how unique he is. Super affectionate, friendly to everyone, and a big time football fan across the board. He loves Tennessee and the Packers (because I’m a good mother), but he loves watching the game no matter who’s playing.

Jackson and Phil Fulmer

The problem occurs when he gets over-excited. One of the things the psychologist explained to us during his evaluations is that Jackson operates at a nine pretty much all the time, on a scale of one to ten. Those of us who are high strung start our day at a five or six, while others who have a calmer disposition hover at a two or three on a regular basis. As conflicts arise, we slowly inch to ten, each reaching that breaking point when we all lose our minds.

Because he struggles with impulse control, living each day at a nine can be really stressful – good or bad. When the Vols are winning, he’s jumping up and down, snapping, clapping, shifting here and there, repeating stats and obsessing over numbers. When the Vols are losing, he’s crying, tossing himself on the ground, sayings things he does not mean.

impulse control autismIt takes a daily reminding – no, hourly – that he needs to recognize his own level of frustration and make the decision to calm down or change his situation (leave the room, change the channel, walk away, etc.) Because when he Reaches 10, it gets ugly.

That brings us to the Tennessee-Arkansas game last Saturday. We found cheap seats online and went as a family. It was a risk, considering how Tennessee has played this season. I was mildly worried about Chuck’s blood pressure, but I was mostly worried about Jackson Reaching 10. And in a crowd of 102,000 fans, how would we handle Jackson Reaching 10?

Throughout each quarter, I had to gently remind Jackson, It’s not a big deal, It’s okay, Calm down, Sit down, It’s okay, It’s not a big deal. But then we reached the fourth quarter and it wasn’t looking good. I could read Jackson’s face quite clearly. If Tennessee did not pull out all the stops, Arkansas was going to win and Jackson was going to melt down. I half-watched the game and half-watched his face.

Tennessee fumbled. The game was going downhill fast. Jackson spun around to me and said boldly, “I NEED TO LEAVE.”

Calmly, I turned to Chuck, who’d driven separately, and said, “Jackson needs to leave.” Then the two stood up, grabbed hands, and left the stadium. Jackson diffused along the way.

While Jeremy and I finished watching the pitifully poor game, I sat proudly. Tennessee was losing to a team that they should have beat, but Jackson totally won that night. He recognized his temper and MADE THE DECISION on HIS OWN to walk away. It was a big move. It was ginormous. To date, it was one of my proudest moments as a mother: Jackson crested the rim of Reaching 10 and decided on his own to turn back. 

The Day Josh Dobbs hugged Jackson

The forecast for the Tennessee Vols Orange and White Game was not good. On Friday evening, my Weather Channel app showed 100 percent change of rain and thunderstorms. Chuck announced that he would not endure a thunderstorm, and Saturday morning, Jeremy announced the same thing. Jackson and I looked at each other during breakfast and decided we would risk it. With jackets and ponchos in hand, we set off for Neyland Stadium for Fan Day with our fingers crossed.

That finger crossing thing must have worked because not a single drop of rain fell from the sky. In fact, by the end of our seven hours in Knoxville, both Jackson and I were hot and sunburned. Furthermore, upon arriving on campus we saw a very small crowd of maybe thirty people standing around Quarterback Joshua Dobbs. Jackson and I lost our minds, found a parking spot, and ran straight to him.

It took about twenty minutes to have any sort of contact with him, but that’s primarily because I insisted Jackson and I not push our way through people. “We aren’t going to be rude,” I kept telling my son. “We will wait our turn.” Not everyone functioned that way, which was embarrassing, particularly for the adults who shoved kids aside (one child was in a wheelchair, for goodness sakes) for an autograph and selfie.

Knowing that Josh Dobbs wouldn’t stand there indefinitely, I leaned down to Jackson and whispered, “You just need to be bold and catch his attention with your voice. He can’t stand here much longer.”

Then, from the bottom of a crowd of people calling for autographs and photos, Jackson yells, “EXCUSE ME, MR. DOBBS, CAN I HAVE A HUG?”

The quarterback turned our way and said, “Sure, no problem.”

Hugging Josh Dobbs

Be still my heart, y’all. Jackson gave him a tight squeeze, said thank you, and then nearly exploded from excitement. If our Fan Day experience had ended right then, it still would’ve been worth it.

As expected, there was a lots of standing in line, which is hard for everyone but especially hard for kids. It’s especially hard for a kid whose mother was ill-prepared for three hours of standing and brought no snacks or drinks. Thankfully, a nice man behind us forfeited his program, so that gave Jackson reading material for a while.

Reading the program

By the time we got inside the stadium for Fan Day, Jackson and I were rejuvenated. There is something very cool about walking onto the checkerboard end zones and touching the grass where college football is played.

Jackson in Neyland

There was more standing to do inside the stadium, but this time it didn’t end with a photo or autograph. The line to meet Coach Jones was painfully long, and even though we were closer to the front (as opposed to closer to the back), we still didn’t get to meet him.

Waiting for Coach Jones

Just as tears welled in Jackson’s eyes, I spotted a group of cheerleaders. That put a huge smile on his face. (We all know how much Jackson likes cheerleaders.)

Jackson with Smokey and the Cheerleaders

It had been six hours since breakfast, so after this photo was taken we ran for the concession stand. With a wide view of the field and only an hour until the Orange and White Game was starting, we scarfed down junk food as if we’d not eaten in days.

Neyland Stadium

We also enjoyed watching Peyton Manning roam the field while the players warmed up. (Y’all know the stadium lost its mind when Peyton walked out. He’s Tennessee Royalty.)

Peyton comes to visit

We only stayed for the first quarter of the game because exhaustion had set in fully and the eight year old was fading. He said it had been one of the best days of his life, that he was glad to spend it with me, and that meeting Josh Dobbs was his favorite part. Jackson’s eyes glistened as he said these things, telling me that the sunburns and achy feet and hours of standing in line was worth it.

I always think it’s worth it when we get to see Smokey. 

Running the checkerboard

Meeting Smokey X and Well Wishes to the Vols

We went to the Vol Walk yesterday and had THE BEST TIME. It all started when we met Smokey X.

Meeting Smokey XChuck took the photo because he was the only one who wasn’t swooning over this dog. I eyeballed every inch of his fur to see how similar his coat is to Major’s. They could be from the same litter for sure, but we decided Major was bigger in bulk and not nearly as well behaved.

The second most amazing thing that happened is the boys got to cross over the flags, which separates the players from the fans, because of an invitation by Barb Jones – the First Lady of Tennessee Football.

At first, her face didn’t register with me. We were situated behind the flags in hopes that we’d get a good look at Coach Butch Jones and the players as they walked from the bus to the stadium. The longer we sat waiting, the more people shuffled over us to stand on the other side of the flags, therefore obstructing our view. It can be discouraging since parents try really hard to find a good spot for short kids to see! Just as I sat there thinking we’d chosen the wrong spot, a dark-haired woman walked over to me and said, “Why don’t you bring your boys over here with us so they can see the players? I feel really bad standing in front of them.”

I look at Chuck, he shrugs sure, why not? We cross over the flags and stand with about 20 other people who seem far more important than us. I tell her thank you right away and have the boys introduce themselves. They shake hands and she guesses their grades. Finally, I reach out my hand, “I’m Jennie,” to which she replies, “I’m Barb.”


I didn’t recognize her behind her aviator sunglasses, nor did I realize that we were standing alongside coaches’ families.

But we were. Barb shooed the boys forward to stand next to her youngest son so they could be front and center to slap hands with the football players as they walked by.

And then, we met the Other Smokey! He engaged with Jackson and played with the small Smokey stuffed animal he brought to the game. Lil’ J nearly lost his mind.

Meeting the other Smokey

Thumbs up to SmokeyI squatted down so I wouldn’t block other fans and took pictures like crazy of our boys giving well wishes to the team.

Slapping hands with the playersI am so grateful to Barb Jones for seeing Jeremy and Jackson and pulling them out of the crowd for this special treat. We will never forget it!

Finally, we stayed to hear The Pride of the Southland Band, my personal favorite. I love hearing each section play its part. Even though we lost to Missouri last night, my heart swells with pride whenever I hear Rocky Top.

My Do Not Eat List and the Tennessee Vols

First, the food. I finally went to the allergist to figure out why I cannot get a grip on food. For a long time, specifically since 2009, I’ve been trying to discern which foods rip my stomach apart and which ones don’t. After reading The G-Free Diet, I was sure that gluten was the culprit. I cut out all wheat products the week before Thanksgiving in 2009 and saw a significant improvement in my digestion. I thought I’d figured it out, but over time it’s proven ineffective and I’ve spent a lot of time complaining to Chuck about why I consistently don’t feel well.

Sick of hearing it, he told me last month, “I’m done listening to your complaining. Go to the allergist.” Lovingly, of course.

So I did. She pricked my skin with more than 150 environmental and food allergens. Measured against my body’s reaction to histamine, seventeen different foods showed a reaction. SEVENTEEN. Continue reading “My Do Not Eat List and the Tennessee Vols”

Tennessee may have lost to Florida, but…

…Jackson got a hug from a Tennessee cheerleader. Focus on the positive, people.

Jackson gets a hug

Here are a few other photos from the Vol Walk this morning. No comment on the game. Continue reading “Tennessee may have lost to Florida, but…”

The Major

I failed to mention yesterday why we named our dog Major. If you’re familiar with the Tennessee Vols, then you probably already connected the dots to former football coach Johnny Majors. We weren’t going to name our Smokey dog “Smokey,” but we intentionally pulled his name from Vol Country. He may not look like a Major now (Chuck said he’s more Minor than Major, which is hilarious and true) but he’ll grow to be a big Tennessee dog with a deep howl to match his size.


Big pawsWe’re all smitten. Except when he’s howling at 3:30 in the morning. We’re a little less smitten at 3:30 in the morning.

Just look at that face… all is forgiven. Major's closeup

Ninth Birthday Round-up

We’ll move on from Jeremy’s birthday after today, but I couldn’t move on until I’d shared these pictures with you.

He was super thrilled about the new bike!

Another great gift was a pair of tickets to the Tennessee football game Saturday night. They were free and entirely unexpected! It was Jeremy’s first college football game in Neyland Stadium. Thank the sweet Lord the Vols won.

As you already know, Jeremy also received a black Webkinz cat, and Salem got to meet the stuffed animal for the first time through the patio door. Per usual, he’s unimpressed, because in his mind, there can only be one.

A Win in Overtime

A couple months ago Amy asked if we’d be interested in going to a Tennessee game with her and Matt, which was of course a big YES. She purchased discounted tickets through her workplace and they drove up Saturday afternoon from Chattanooga. After a quick bite in town, we hopped the bus from Maryville to Knoxville and arrived just in time for kickoff.

The weather was perfectly chilly and the game was STRESSFUL. Tennessee is still rebuilding its team with young, eager players, so even though a win against Vanderbilt shouldn’t be that big of a deal, it was a huge deal on Saturday night. The game went into overtime, tied at 21, when Tennessee intercepted the ball and took it into the end zone for the win. The crowd erupted into screams and singing Rocky Top. From our top tier seats we could see Smokey howling at all the ruckus. It was great.

(photo courtesy of

What in the world will we do when football season is over?

I suppose we can start by praying for a better 2012 season.

Darn Near Perfect Weekend

Had the Vols won, it would’ve been a picture perfect weekend on the cusp of autumn in east Tennessee. But let’s not focus on the negative.

We slept in, we snacked all day, we chilled out, we sat on the deck, we played Words with Friends, we wore our comfy clothes. It was exactly what a weekend should be. The cool breeze outside and the sound of leaves rustling tell me that fall is coming. Hip, hip hurray!

Today was our second round of co-op classes, which the boys went to with great enthusiasm. While my attitude is better this week, I still stowed away in the gym, drank coffee and read for nearly two uninterrupted hours. It was wonderful.

The boys are doing very well with their studies. In fact, Jackson just completed his second Explode the Code book and Jeremy is already on his fifth math unit (there’s 30 total, so at this rate he’ll be finished in March), which all makes me wonder if we’re going too fast. Am I hurrying them? Are they just naturally brilliant? Hmm.

Meanwhile, here’s your Seek and Find assignment for the day. It’s really not that hard.